45th Annual Meeting – Sustainability, Wednesday May 31, 2017, “With Room to Grow: Design and construction of a new conservation facility at the University of Washington Libraries”, Justin P. Johnson

Having a new conservation space built is the greatest hope and fear of many conservators – such an opportunity to take advantage of, and also to potentially go wrong! Justin Johnson’s presentation about their experiences at the University of Washington Libraries in Seattle, WA was a great insight into the process, and, given they seem to largely be pleased with the outcome, demonstrates that you sometimes can get what you want, as well as what you need.

The previous conservation space was located in a basement, cramped at only 2000 sq ft, and had last been updated in 1963. A new conservation position, partly funded by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, was the impetus to create a new conservation space with more up-to-date equipment and space for the now four full time conservators, plus up to three part-time students and interns.

One of the early things the conservation team did was to create future goals for their space. Some of these included:

  • increasing the ability to undertake major treatments on collection items, while maintaining general collection work
  • incorporate book, paper and photograph treatments in the same space
  • have the ability to teach and train student conservators and interns
  • have a flexible and open space that could be used for workshops and research as well as treatment

The team also consulted widely with conservation scientists and treatment conservators of many disciplines.
A new space on the rooftop was identified, double the size of the previous space at 4000 sq ft, with natural light from five skylights. However, there were limitations on HVAC and ducting placement for a fume hood. Services with restrictions were placed in the design first, with other equipment fitted in around them. The fume hood location was determined first, followed by the rest of the wet lab: sinks, exhaust trunks, microscopy, suction and humidification, light bleaching and materials storage.

A multi-purpose documentation room was designed, where curtains could screen off an area to allow for photography or artefact examination and low-tech analysis, but still allow the space to be open to the rest of the lab area.

At one end of the main space a storage, office and reception area was located, with the rest of the space being fitted out for the main treatment work, including space for 10 work benches and more storage. This space had an open focus to encourage communication and collaboration as well as reconfiguration, when required.

While an architectural team was engaged to create the space, the conservation team were heavily involved, thinking through the design of furniture (especially for storage purposes) and thoroughly investigating the departmental work flows and how they would work in the space.

The conservation team drew their workflow movements on paper and overlaid them on the design drawings and also used computer tools, such as Live Home 3D Pro, to visualise the space and move furniture around to try out new orientations. This software was very useful to ‘walk through’ the space, make adjustments to the design and then send them via pdf to the architects. It also facilitated communication between the conservators and architects and saved a lot of money in lengthy redesigns which would have occurred in a later phase of the project.

15 months after the initial bid phase, the team moved into their new space in February 2016.


Q1) What is the climate and do you know the air exchange rate? A1) Aiming for 70F/50% but are still in the process of balancing the AHUs. They are finding that the fume hood competes with the HVAC.

Q2) Who did the lighting design? A2) It was done by a UWA group at the end of the project; the Live Home 3D Pro software has a large database of furniture and lighting which can be added to the design.

Q3) What was the total budget? A3) Got support from the Mellon grant, UWA donors and campus funding. A lot of money was saved in design fees by the proactive work of the conservation team.

Q4) What was the size of the benches and the area around them? A4) The benches both fixed and moveable are all the same height and measure 60” x 38” with 3.5’ between benches.

Q5) Detail on the skylights: specification and R values? A5) The lighting system has an automated system to take the daylight into account; the lights reduce on a bright day (which is rare in Seattle!).